Tuesday, 16 February 2010

What has the Assembly Ever Done For Us?

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson began the debate on the Budget yesterday. This is likely to be the toughest ever budget in NI with significant cuts to most departments but most publicly the Health Department. So perhaps to get his response in early he outlined what he thought the Assembly had succeeded in doing in the last 12 months

"Since last April:
· 14 major school building projects have been completed – with a further two projects likely to complete soon;
· Funding of almost £203million was made available to our two universities to cover teaching, learning and research;
· A new technology and skills centre opened at the South West College and new facilities are under construction at the Belfast Metropolitan College.
· In the Health Service, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service took receipt of 66 new ambulances;
· Construction work has begun on the new South West Hospital in Enniskillen and new Health and Wellbeing Centres in West Belfast;
· A new Dementia Services Development Centre and the Knockbreda Health and Care Centre has opened in Belfast whilst the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick opened in May;
· A £17million contract has been awarded to provide additional dentists in access 'hotspots' across Northern Ireland.
· 1,268 farm businesses have received letters of offer in relation to the first tranche of the Farm Modernisation Programme, whilst farmers have benefitted through funding of £300million under the Common Agricultural Policy;
· £2.1billion pounds of social security benefits and income support was made available to support people across Northern Ireland;
· 1,750 social and over 500 affordable houses were built, leaving us on track to deliver 10,000 social and affordable homes by 2013 and, in so doing, helping us support the construction industry during challenging times."

Monday, 8 February 2010

Policing and Justice.....

Last week was a long week and I am reasonably sure that most people have heard enough on Policing and Justice to last them a long time. Bad news I am afraid - politics in Northern Ireland is likely to be dominated by this issue for several months to come.

Today,nominations are being accepted from people who wish to put themselves forward for the post of Justice Minister. Note this is not explicitly restricted to political parties so anyone from Stephen Nolan to yours truly could give it a go!

SF and DUP have stated that they will not take the position. For some strange reason the two big partiers have decided not to run the d'hondt sysyetm by which Ministers are chosen and have pretty much opted for an Alliance Party Minister. This is open to challenge and I am sure that the new SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie will see this as the first test of her leadership.

The Alliance Party leader David Ford is even rumoured to be not happy at the prospect unless more is done to advance a shared future in Northern Ireland. I am all for advancing a shared future but teh Alliance Party do not have a sufficient mandate to hold a ministerial office. I like many others have a few questions

1. Why is d'hondt not being run? If it were the SDLP would be in line for the post.

2. Why have the two main parties abdicated their desire to hold the post. Could it be because the holder of that office could never do a really good job no matter how they were supported?

3. If we cant find an agreed nominee are we back to square one or will we run d'hondt which has been good enough for all the other ministers to date?

These answers will come slowly and painfully over the coming weeks and months. It aint over yet folks and the fat lady is likely to be a lot thinner by the time it does.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Today is the Day!

Today is the Day. A week ago the blog was a bit depressing and a great lack of hope. Today that is turned around as many in politics and the media are preparing for an announcement that will allow policing and justice to be devolved to the NI Assembly.

Whilst the details of any deal will have to be examined and must include the settlement of issues from all political persuasions. It should be noted that only 62.3% of people in Northern Ireland turned out to vote at the last Assembly elections in 2007. This leaves 37.7% of people who are not represented by any parties.

If politics is seen to work today then perhaps some of those who did not vote in 2007 might become interested in politics as a medium for solving peoples prblems. Failure today will have the opposite affect.

Failure is also not an option for our economy. US Economic Envoy Declan Kelly spoke last week of the once in a lifetime economic opportunity for Northern Ireland that could be missed if parties dont agree. Since then 310 jobs have been lost.

Politicians are arguing over community confidence yes the confidence is important but not doing the deal now will mean that ordinary people will loose faith in our politicians ability to serve and deliver for people. If that happens so what if we have direct rule - if it works better than the present lot then...why not?!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Crisis Time

So surprise, surprise our politicians have had to call in the British and Irish governments to try and make headway with the politicians on policing and save the Assembly. Perhaps even the US will be making phonecalls to Hillsborough Castle in the next 24 - 48 hours.

Policing and Justice was always going to be tough especially with regard to contentious issues of parades and who the Justice Minister might be. Let me say at this point I have nothing against the Alliance Party and find their MLAs for the most part very easy to work with but by what right do they desrve to have a ministry?

NI Ministers are chosen by the d'Hondt system based on the strength of political parties. Alliance has in the past been proud of its vocal role as a sort of opposition in the Assembly - they will now lose this mantle if they take a ministry.

I have been asked several times today what I think will happen. So for what it is worth - I do not believe that the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach would be overnighting in Belfast if they felt nothing could be achieved. So the options are that they have a plan B which overcomes the parades issue - which can really only be that the governments control it which will please no one;could they ask an international panel to deal with it? they will read the riot act to the parties and somehow compell them to do a deal or finally pull the plug on the Assembly.

If the plug is pulled elections to the Assembly will take place in a few months. This will solve nothing! We will have the same politicians with varying degrees of party strengths disagreeing over the same old issues.

It will be a long night for the negotiating teams at Hillsborough bu for goodness sake sort it out all of our jobs depend on it and by the way what is filling the vaccum shots fired at police stations and at young people. Perhaps the politicians will be able to explain to Mr Heffron why they havent been able to do a deal and he has the advantage of understanding both Irish and English.

Friday, 22 January 2010


Yes you have guessed its crisis time again! Wouldnt it be nice if politicians actually all gathered together to serve the people properly. Politicians seem to talk about people assuming they know what people want and assuming makes an Ass out of U and ME!

The talks looked last week that they might actually lead somwhere positive. But now we have the usual that party wont talk to me and I dont want them to be Justice Minister. Are we a mature enough society to adequately handle the vital areas of policing and justice? (Answers on a postcard)

Looking ahead at what might happen.

1. Sinn Fein meet this weekend for an update on the talks against a backdrop of complaints against the DUP. Very little may publicly be said but bare in mind that SF would stand to gain the most if Assembly elections were called. DUP faces threats from TUV, UCUNF and fallout from the Robinson issues. My guess is that they will either opt for continued talks or park some issues until after the Westminster elections. I hope a deadline is not set because nothing will bring down the prospects of a deal quicker.

2. DUP need to have the parades issue resolved to their satisfaction so that they can gain confidence after the weeks of negative press. They will not accept a deadline. It will be hard for them to do a deal with SF ahead of the elections because of the mutiple threats to their vote. They may seek to do a deal with UUP/UCUNF over South Belfast and Fermanagh South Tyrone in order to secure support for their version of a deal on policing.

3. SDLP will have a new leader within a few weeks. They cannot allow the public impression to be that they are being ignored or sidelined by the DUP/SF. They will have to either reluctantly accept presumably the Alliance candidate or withdraw from the Executive. Withdrawal might send the message that the Nationalist community has limits to its patience, would garner them with a lot of community and PR support. In the likely event that they can get d'hondt run again that increasingly looks like the least worst option.

4. Alliance Party - David Ford increasingly looks like the incoming Justice Minister. This will remove from the party the right to say that they are the opposition. Effectively there will be an Assembly opposition of 4 MLAs - so much for democracy.

Overall its an election year with parties facing many challenges. Is this the best time to be discussing Policing and Justice? Possibly not but then next year we have Assembly elections. There is one other alternative

Let the British government handle the issue of Parades and let the NI Executive handle the rest. Brown will want this issue sorted before the elections and may come to Belfast in the coming weeks to get the deal done. Failing that it is likely that the Conservative Party will have to manage the issue and who knows how generous they will be on the budget front. It will be an interesting few weeks/months.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

One Year On

One year on President Obama is facing up to many of the problems either caused or ignored by the Republican administrations. Tidying up after such mismanagement is going to be painful but true leadership does not hide from such challenges.

Monday, 18 January 2010

I Have A Dream

In my humble opinion the best speech ever made.May his dreams become reality someday.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Sad News and politics

Just heard the very sad news that the young Irish speaking and gaelic playing police officer has lost his leg. With this attack on a GAA member these dissidents have shown how utterly and entirely anti Irish they really are.

This attack shows how vital it is that our politicians agree a deal on Policing and Justice. There is some positive signs from both DUP and Sinn Fein but its only a matter of time before the agreed budget for this will be taken from the table and then all bets will be off ahead of the general elections.

Further financial pressures are also showing themselves as Departmental Spending Plans go out for consultation. We will get the usual round of politicians saying we cant cut health or education and we cant have water charges......one question - Where will the money come from? We are in a recession. The British Government is under significant financial pressure at the moment. Hard choices have to be made, and I agree that the cut of £113.5m to the health budget will have very negative implications on service delivery. So if we dont want health to face this cut who will face it? The cake is only a certain size.

The best way to face this crisis is to completely reject the dissidents and ensure that they are removed from society, secure a peaceful and stable society with Policing and Justice powers. This will create confidence in the economy and lead to jobs and more resources for us.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Northern Ireland 2010

Happy New Year everyone!

Hope we are all enjoying the freezing weather (Keep a wee eye on your next door neighbour just in case they need a bit of help). Just a quick question will the Water Service and other government agencies be ready for the thaw? Floods next.

One story has really dominated the news agenda in Northern Ireland and it concerns the Robinson family. I am not going to say too much on this issue I will leave that to others and there are plenty. I would just ask people to reflect that whether or not you agree with DUP politics or like or dislike certain politicians please remember for a moment that there are families involved in this unfortunate situation who will have totally innocent members who will be suffering at this time. So whilst it may be fun for certain individuals to make fun for a moment please put yourself in the position of innocent members of the families and think how you would feel. That is all the comment I am going to make about the personal story.

On the political side there will be questions to answer about expenses, and who knew what when there will be a lot more on this to come over the next few weeks. The impact on Peter Robinson's ability to lead the DUP and stay as First Minister again is too early to say. I suspect that he will remain as First Minister and DUP leader until at least after the next general election.

Now back to Earth! There were two other stories one good and one bad. The UDA finally decommissioned and lets hope that this will lead to greater peace and stability in our society and mark an effort to deal with the issues of poverty in loyalist communities in a way that is good for all society.

Today we saw yet another entirely pointless attack on a police officer in Antrim when a bomb was placed in his car. Anyone could have been killed or injured by this! Please explain to me how this act and others like it leads to a United Ireland?!To put it in a way they might understand - Please learn some basic maths when you kill police or soldiers how many of the rest of them leave?....thats right only 100's more come in so the only people keeping the 'Crown Forces ' in Ireland are those making these attacks. Do something useful for Ireland and go away. People should be allowed to go to work and return home to their families without this.